Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Status update

So what happened in the first few weeks of our project extension?

In a series of planning meetings with Tom Ottway from the ISC we talked about possible ways to integrate the CloudBank app with formal language provision at the ISC. While CloudBank was developed in first place to support informal learning, the discussion showed that there are many engaging ways how the app could be used in formal language courses, ranging from field trips and outdoor missions to competitions where students collect language- and culture-related material and then analyse and talk about it in whole-class, group- or one-on-one discussions.

An interesting aspect in these discussions was that CloudBank not only supports language learners, but also helps teachers to better understand their students' requirements as they can examine the collected material and deduct where their students have difficulties. We never thought of it this way around, but it is very interesting and once again confirms the value of involving stakeholders at all stages in the wider development process!

Apart from usage scenarios we also talked about practical issues and agreed a meeting with ESOL teachers at the ISC. Initially we also planned to meet the students to be involved in the evaluation but eventually dropped the idea as it might unnecessarily narrow down or restrict their use of CloudBank if confronted at the outset with our own ideas of how the system should be used.

In our meeting with ESOL teachers at the ISC, we first gave a short presentation of CloudBank and then discussed the planned evaluation with teachers, answered technical and conceptual questions and further explored potential scenarios how students could use the application. The teachers we talked to seemed very interested in CloudBank and were keen to get their hands on a mobile device to play around with it!

And this brings me straight to the sad story of trying to buy the mobile phones for our evaluation. I fear this whole post might turn into a particularly nasty rant if I go into the details, so let's just say it's not only the university, but also the phone companies who have mind-bending rules and regulations that hamper their operations and frustrate staff at either end. I better stop here.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Rolling on...

Yes, we're one of the few lucky Rapid Innovation projects to receive follow-up funding from JISC! We'll use the funds to carry out a pedagogical evaluation of CloudBank in co-operation with the International Student Centre (ISC) at the University of Sussex. This will strengthen any future bids to develop the system further and thereby address one of the most important aspects of sustainability: funding.

So what do we plan to do?

Based on preliminary talks with Tom Ottway, Head of English at the ISC, we'll use CloudBank in two consecutive language courses with international students. A big hurdle for any mobile learning project is the availability of mobile devices, and to this end we'll purchase a set of cheap Android devices and make them available to students together with with pre-paid internet access. The pedagogical evaluation will then be carried out in collaboration with ESOL teachers at the ISC.

Before we can start however, we need to ready the system for use in a production environment. Currently all user-generated content ends up in the same pool, however, in order to use the system in different contexts and with different user populations it is necessary to introduce the notion of user groups or content channels. This will allow the creation of distinct learning spaces with separate content pools for specific user groups. As a knock-on effect, we also need to update the web interface, technical and end-user documentation.

Finally, the evaluation will yield plenty of material to talk about, and we're planning to do this at the mLearn 2010 conference in Malta to maintain momentum and ensure continued international interest in CloudBank.